First of three parts.
With the primary election and party conventions coming fast, we thought we'd share some of our favorite blogs to help you keep up to speed before you hit the voting booth, now and in November. Today we'll look at the most influential partisan blogs in Washington, and in coming days we'll look at other prominent political blogs, partisan and otherwise.
Whether you lean Democrat or drift Republican, there are two blogs in the Puget Sound region that stand apart — Sound Politics for the right and Horse's Ass for the left. These two blogs are virtual coke mirrors for political junkies — filled with line after line of up-to-the hour election news and coverage. You don't even have to steal your mother's jewelry to read them. Just steal your neighbor's Wi-Fi.
What makes Sound Politics and Horse's Ass so compelling? As for fairness, you can fuhgetaboutit — because you won't find it on either blog. Good writing is a different story. Both blogs are entertaining and smart (depending on whom you ask), and depending on your personal views, they may make you want to weep with joy. Or protest the government. Or go to war. Or pull your hair out. In any case, they're both worth reading before casting your ballot.
What are the odds that a conservative blog would garner a large readership in the liberal-dominated Puget Sound area? In Seattle, a town so packed with Pinkos that even the arsonists are environmentalists and selling bottled water at public events could get you blacklisted from Starbucks before you can say "I'd like organic milk with that," it would seem easy to dismiss the presence of a strong conservative grassroots. Until you factor in the conservative bloggers at Sound Politics and their monthly audience of more than 100,000 visitors.
Sound Politics is the brainchild of local blogger and conservative political junkie Stefan Sharkansky, 45, who launched the group blog just before the 2004 election cycle. His timing couldn't have been better. That November, the neck-and-neck gubernatorial race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Chris Gregoire exploded into an electoral Search for Bobby Fischer — a recount filled with mysterious political chess moves, mud-slinging, and un-dead voters. Sound Politics, meanwhile, became the place for conservatives to turn for vote-counting coverage and partisan commentary about the recount.
Gregoire was sworn into office only days after a recount revealed she won by only 133 votes. Despite plenty of coverage from The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sharkansky felt a closer analysis of the results was necessary.
"I had done some minor investigative stuff earlier, but I managed to really make my mark with the 2004 election," Sharkansky said. "My reporting took off, based on my skill set with database research — that's what was called upon to analyze computer records in the election."
After spending hundreds of hours combing voter registrations and voting records, Sharkansky dropped an electoral bombshell on Dec. 29, 2004 — just days before Gregoire was to be sworn in. The number of King County ballots counted in the final tally was 899,199 — 3,539 more than the number of participating voters reported in the county's list. The blog post sent reporters and Republicans scrambling to explain the discrepancy and assign blame. Meanwhile, local and national media ate it up.
According to a January 2005 story by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert Jamieson, the Web site was averaging more than 19,000 visits per day during the recount coverage. Sharkansky had opened the grassroots floodgates.
"Eventually people began to find me and send confidential information," he said. "They trusted me to tell the story better than professional journalists. The stuff I had dug up went into the trial about the election."
Republicans eventually contested the results of the recount in court. They lost.
But Sound Politics' coverage of the election did underscore one of the few victories for the local Right in 2004 — the beleaguered voice of the "Seattle conservative" was alive and well in the blogosphere.
"I think [Sound Politics] has a diversity of opinion that you don't get from many newspapers," Sharkansky said. "I have a blend of original reporting, commentary, and snark. We're a loosely based collective. Everyone has [his or her] own style and interests. I'd say that's partly why we're successful."
Sharkansky, however, rarely posts at Sound Politics these days. He works for a commercial Web site. "I spent a lot of time blogging, but it was time to move on," he said. "The opportunity costs were too great. I needed to earn a living."
Even without the "Shark" circling in the waters at Sound Politics, "re-elect" Rossi cries ring loud and clear at the blog.
Today, 32-year-old Eric Earling leads the blog's pack of partisan authors, typically writing several posts per day. Despite the Blue demographic in the region, Earling said finding a Red niche wasn't difficult.
"Even though this is a left-of-center area in politics overall, there certainly is a market for a more conservative point of view," Earling said. "I believe our regular readership extends well outside of Seattle, encompassing the broader Puget Sound area and to some degree the whole state. Moreover, quality and/or entertaining writing seems to have its own draw."
Entertaining political writing is often packed with partisan punches, and judging by the name of Seattle's best liberal blog, it's not difficult to imagine where the bloggers at Horse's Ass aim their jabs.
In 2003, David Goldstein created a ballot measure to proclaim local initiative king Tim Eyman a "horse's ass." The initiative never got off the ground. But Goldstein turned his campaign Web site into a blog, and Horse's Ass was born, and during the 2004 election cycle it took off, garnering thousands of readers each day.
During the 2004 gubernatorial election, Horse's Ass kept Democrats and Gregoire fans from losing hope. The blog's entertaining and continuous coverage of the recount drama created a devoted audience, one that loved the crude-but-pointed criticism by Goldstein.
Seattle Times political reporter David Postman credits Horses's Ass, along with Sound Politics, as the inspiration for him to launch his his own successful blog, Postman on Politics. And the hard work of Horse's Ass recently was recognized nationally, when the Democratic National Committee selected Goldstein to represent Washington bloggers at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
"When I started out in 2004, I couldn't get a party official to return my call; now they're inviting me to the DNCC," Goldstein said.
But the reason to read Horse's Ass, Goldstein said, isn't simply to hear the advocacy for the Left. "I'm simply a damn good read — something even many of my righty critics will admit," he said in an e-mail.
Along with its original reporting and commentary, Goldstein said, "HA is the only local liberal blog that's built on muckraking. I've always been the go-to blogger for dishing the dirt. People like dirt."
There's plenty of dirt at Horse's Ass — much of which is mixed with water and slung at state Republicans — but there's also plenty of good original reporting.
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